Category Archives: Sea turtles

School Without Walls

Over the past two weeks the CEI Sea Turtle Research and Conservation team has had the opportunity to join forces with the grade 7 and 8 classes of Deep Creek Middle School (DCMS). The grade 8 students have been studying the Lucayans in both their Art and Social Studies classes. In Social Studies the students were learning about the turtle-catching techniques of the Lucayans. The Lucayan method involved tying string to remoras and once the remora has found and attached itself to a turtle the Lucayans would catch it and bring it onto land. In their art class they took inspiration from the turtles to create a Lucayan style art piece. The grade 8 students met up with the turtle team in Deep Creek and learned how to capture, handle and measure juvenile green sea turtles.

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Grade 8 students search Deep Creek for a turtle to chase

The class broke up into several groups and went out on a small boat to search for turtles within the creek. Once a turtle was spotted one person would keep their eyes on the turtle and point at it while everyone else got their snorkel gear on and ready to go. After the turtle came up to breath a few times swimmers were sent in to chase after the turtle and grab it when it came up to breath.

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A DCMS students proudly holding a turtle with his social studies teacher

The following week, the grade 7 class was given a presentation about sea turtles and then came out to Starved Creek to take their turn at chasing turtles as part of the School Without Walls program at DCMS. One of the goals of the School Without Walls program is to get students outside and learn about their environment. The students had the opportunity to hold, measure and chase juvenile green sea turtles as well as learn about the importance and significance of seagrass. The students were very excited to name the turtles tossing out names like Marshmallow, Steve and Diamond!

This partnership between DCMS and the turtle team was a huge success! The students got the opportunity to learn about sea turtles and CEI was able to expand its outreach efforts!

CEI team visits with Space 2 Create summer camp

Last week, four members of staff from Cape Eleuthera Institute (CEI) visited Harbour Island as part of an outreach event working with the summer camp Space 2 Create.

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Space 2 Create is a comprehensive summer enrichment program that hosts 83 students for 3 weeks. Through artistic, academic and community projects, youth are empowered as leaders. During morning session students focus on one of the following tracks;

  • Space 2 Learn – math, English, science
  • Space 2 Taste – culinary
  • Space 2 Explore – marine science
  • Space 2 Tell your story – film making

The CEI team spent two days teaching and interacting with the camp participants exploring different aspects of research and science.

The first day Anna, Research Technician at CEI, gave a presentation about sea turtles in The Bahamas. The group learned about the four species of sea turtle in The Bahamas, and the threats they face. They also learned about their conservation status and the research being conducted currently at CEI. Following the presentation, the excited young students were able to go out in the field and participate in the capture of a green sea turtle contributing to the data they learned about earlier in the morning. They watched enthusiastically as measurements were taken and data was collected, and at the end of the workup were able to name and help safely release the animal. Green sea turtles are the most abundant of all 4 species found on Eleuthera, and are the main focus on the research conducted at CEI. Therefore the measurements taken from the turtle will allow researchers to gain important information such as growth rates and a health estimation of the individual, and contribute to a better understanding of the population of juveniles green sea turtles around Eleuthera.

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The team was invited to stay for the remainder of the day to learn more about Space 2 Create and join in some of their afternoon activities. The afternoon was spent singing, dancing, painting, and joining in the drama class.

The following morning, the focus switched to the status of sharks in The Bahamas. Shane Gross, photojournalist specializing in underwater conservation photography, gave an insightful talk on sharks using many of his own photos and experiences. After this, Maggie Winchester, Research Technician at CEI, gave a presentation on the shark research currently going on at the institute, followed by a Cuban dogfish dissection.

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Sharks play a significant role in the marine ecosystems of The Bahamas, not only improving ecosystem health but aiding the tourism industry as well. Despite their importance, many species of shark remain vastly understudied. The Cuban dogfish is an abundant yet poorly understood species of deep water shark in The Bahamas, commonly found at around 600m depth. During the dissection, the campers learned about the internal and external adaptations that make this small species of shark able to survive and thrive deep in the water column. This provided a hands on opportunity to learn about shark biology, using a species commonly found around the Cape.

Between Shane and Maggie’s talks and the interaction with the Cuban dogfish, myths about sharks in the Bahamas were addressed and resolved, and many fears were removed.

In the future CEI will work in collaboration with Space 2 Create and Bahamas Plastic Movement to support research activities for Eleutheran Eco Schools Club ‘s.

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Photo credit: Shane Gross

Summer internships a success!

(From left) Camila Mirow, Madeline Doten, Lillian Ganske, Josh Ratay
(From left) Camila Mirow, Madeline Doten, Lillian Ganske, Josh Ratay

The sea turtle research program welcomed four interns to the team this summer. Arriving June 20th, the interns worked hard both in the field and in the lab for 8 weeks learning the research protocols and getting to know the three Earthwatch teen groups that helped gather data over the summer. All four interns had an amazing time gaining hands on experience tagging and handling sea turtles and working with seagrass surveys and habitat mapping.

Interns and an Earthwatch team seining for turtles in Wemyss Bight
Interns and an Earthwatch team seining for turtles in Wemyss Bight

Camila Mirow (far left) is 19 years old. Despite growing up in Miami, she chose to move up north to study marine biology. She is now an undergraduate student in biological sciences at Mount Holyoke College where she is also completing a certificate in coastal and marine sciences. When Camila has free time she can be found surfing, SCUBA diving or exploring the island.  Camila’s trip to the Island School as an EP in 2015 changed her life and she knew that she had to come back, and here she is! She was so excited to be a part of the IS and CEI community and so grateful for this opportunity.

Intern Camila holding a Green Sea Turtle while biopsies are being taken for genetics and isotope research
Intern Camila holding a Green Sea Turtle while biopsies are being taken for genetics and isotope research

Madeline Doten (middle left) is 18 years old from Orlando, FL. She is going to be a sophomore at Furman University in Greenville, SC studying Biology on the pre-medicine track. Madeline was an Island School Summer Term student in 2014 and is so excited to be back on Eleuthera! In her free time she enjoys scuba diving, freediving, volleyball Tuesdays, and helping out with other projects at CEI and The Island School. Madeline enjoyed gaining field experience, meeting new people, and exploring more of Eleuthera this summer.

Sea Turtle research interns and volunteers helping pull the seine net
Sea Turtle research interns and volunteers helping pull the seine net

Lillian Ganske (middle right) is 19 years old and from Cleveland, Ohio. She is a rising Junior at Colgate University in upstate New York, majoring in the natural sciences with a concentration in marine and freshwater topical science. Her interest in the ocean began when she was on Eleuthera as an Island School student for the Fall 2012 term. She was excited to be back on the island after four long years to build on her previous research and fieldwork experience! In her spare time, Lilly could be found scuba diving, hiking, spending time on the beach, and going on run swims.

Josh Ratay (far right) is 20 years old and grew up in Kaneohe, Hawaii, where he acquired his love of the ocean.  He is now a rising junior at the University of Miami, majoring in marine science and biology, with minors in chemistry and ecosystem science and policy.  His previous field experiences include a semester abroad in the Galapagos Islands, fossil hunting, and wildlife tagging.  Josh enjoys snorkeling, freediving and SCUBA, as well as hiking, exploring and wildlife-watching. He has quite enjoyed his summer on Eleuthera!

Sea Turtle research interns and Earthwatch volunteers after a successful day of tagging in Winding Bay
Sea Turtle research interns and Earthwatch volunteers after a successful day of tagging in Winding Bay

Aside from assisting with our research, all four interns created and presented informative lectures on various topics including threats and diseases affecting sea turtle populations, foraging ecology of sea turtles, and prehistoric sea turtles! It has been a great summer working with these interns, and we thank them for all their help!

Operation Wallacea students participate in sea turtle research

Green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) are one of only seven remaining sea turtle species. These reptiles were classified as an endangered species on the IUCN Red list, following the abrupt decline of populations due to overexploitation and habitat loss. Although the green sea turtle  is protected in Bahamian waters, it is still of great importance to investigate the factors that influence where juveniles choose to forage, as this life cycle stage is crucial to the species’ ability to grow and thrive. Seagrass beds play a critical role within this life cycle stage acting as a key food source for the green sea turtle, and therefore vital for development. This summer, at the Cape Eleuthera Institute, Trinity College Dublin student Anna Whitaker, Oxford University student Alison Maughan and Royal Holloway University of London student Kate Rowley, aim to carry out research which could contribute to the improvement of future conservation efforts of the green sea turtle.

A total number of 9 mangrove creeks were studied in this experiment. At each creek they visited, quadrats were placed and used for the investigation of seagrass structure, where percentage cover, species richness, and leaf canopy height data were collected. As well as this, environmental factors of the area, such as water depth, were studied. Samples of seagrass were also taken using a core.

Two CEI interns catching turtles with a seine net (turtle seining)
Two CEI interns catching turtles with a seine net (turtle seining)

Laboratory analysis of the seagrass samples was used to identify the determinants of sea grass density. This analysis included calculating the number of leaves and shoots in each core taken. After which, the biomass of the samples were calculated by dividing out the core samples into above and below-ground matter. These seagrass samples were heated, and therefore dry weights of above and below ground seagrass matter could be taken.

In order to collect data regarding the abundance of turtles, methods including turtle seining, chasing and abundance surveys were carried out within the creeks where seagrass data had previously been collected. These methods sought to demonstrate correlations between characteristics of the seagrass and the abundance of turtles.

Measuring a captured juvenile green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) at Half Sound, Eleuthera
Measuring a captured juvenile green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) at Half Sound, Eleuthera

Within each creek, a number of different habitat types were studied, including the mouth, silty mangroves, warm shallow waters, and seagrass meadows.

In addition, this project has collaborated with numerous programs, such as Earthwatch, allowing this research to connect with educational outreach and inspire young marine biology enthusiasts.

Sea Turtle Research Interns (front row) and Earthwatch students (back row)
Sea Turtle Research Interns (front row) and Earthwatch students (back row)

The data collected will identify the fine-scale patterns of site selection and resource use of foraging grounds. This will contribute to a better and more in depth understanding of green sea turtle habitat usage. The research objectives of this study will form the basis for Alison, Kate and Anna’s undergraduate dissertation projects. We thank them for their help and wish them all the best with their studies!

 

Sea Turtle team supports the Bahamas National Trust summer camp

On Thursday, July 28th representatives from the sea turtle research team at CEI went to the Leon Levy Preserve in Governor’s Harbour to share their knowledge about sea turtles with 30 Bahamian children attending the Bahamas National Trust Camp Safari. The week focused on herpetology and during a morning block the CEI team taught the campers about sea turtles. A presentation explained the 4 different species found in The Bahamas – green, loggerhead, hawksbill and leatherback – as well as about their life cycle and some of the threats that these reptiles are facing as well as some conservation measures that are helping restore populations.

Research Technician, Anna Safryghin, teaching kids at Camp Safari about sea turtles.
Research Technician, Anna Safryghin, teaching kids at Camp Safari about sea turtles.

The campers were very interested and particularly enjoyed videos of sea turtle hatchlings crawling towards the sea.  After the slide show presentation everyone participated in an activity where the campers had the chance to practice their sea turtle identification skills, by realizing two dimensional models of the 4 species of sea turtles, as well as learn some important facts about their diet and habitat. During the whole event, the kids were very excited to learn and had many questions. This opportunity for outreach and education was very successful and we are grateful to the Bahamas National Trust for inviting us to join in the camp.

Kids testing their sea turtle identification skills
Kids testing their sea turtle identification skills

Newcastle University Summer Research Update

Globally, sharks are among the most threatened group of species, facing some of the greatest population declines in modern history. This is exacerbated by conservative life history characteristics such as slow growth rates, late maturity ages and low number of offspring, which in turn increase their vulnerability to extinction. Turtles also exhibit similar life history characteristics, therefore assessing their importance as a food source and the significance predation has on their population can help us to further conservation efforts. This summer, Newcastle University student Massimo Casali in collaboration with the Cape Eleuthera Institute’s Shark Research and Conservation Program has been conducting a study to elucidate the importance of habitat complexity and coastal shark species on turtle abundance in different creek systems. The Bahamas offers unique opportunities to study turtles and sharks on account of a total ban being enforced since 2009 and 2011 respectively, and so this project will take advantage of the relatively untouched environment of south Eleuthera, The Bahamas.

Newcastle University undergraduate student Massimo Casali holding a nurse shark prior to release
Newcastle University undergraduate student Massimo Casali holding a nurse shark prior to release

Through the use of experimental longlines, sharks are caught in close proximity to creek systems before being sampled, including the taking of morphometric data (measurements), tissue harvest for stable isotope analysis and tagging, allowing for mark-recapture assessment. So far the team has caught a total of 21 sharks represented by 5 species; nurse shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum), Caribbean reef shark (Carcharhinus perezi), blacknose shark (C. acronotus), blacktip reef shark (C. limbatus) and tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier). This research has also included a range of educational programmes and Island School classes enabling us to reach a broad range of budding young shark scientists.

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A nurse shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum) being measured.

Overall, the research objectives of this study will form the basis for Massimo’s undergraduate research dissertation, that will specifically address the relationships between sea turtle and shark abundance in these biologically diverse ecosystems, considered fragile due to human induced disturbances. This will further allow conservation frameworks that will allow the management of sensitive coastal ecosystems throughout The Bahamas.

South Eleuthera offers the only mangrove creek systems on the Island - here shows Kemps Creek which borders the Grand Bahama Bank.
Kemps Creek which borders the Grand Bahama Bank.

Seining success for sea turtle team

Students cleaning off the seine net after a long days work
Students cleaning off the seine net after a long day’s work

Recently, St. Thomas Aquinas High School from Dover, New Hampshire helped conduct research with the CEI sea turtle research team in Winding Bay. Although the weather was uncooperative on Friday while the group was seining, they came out strong with the capture of five green sea turtles in their first attempt. Seining is a method used by several research teams at CEI that involves a very long net that temporarily encloses the animals inside.

The group on Saturday had to put in a little more effort as it took five seining attempts to finally capture three green sea turtles!

Students take the curved carapace length (CCL) of one of the turtles
Students take the curved carapace length (CCL) of one of the turtles

One turtle that was captured, Kyra, had its left rear flipper almost completely detached. The wound was healed and the flipper still had some movement. What caused the damage is unknown, but Kyra is lucky to have kept this limb! Green turtles don’t typically use their rear flippers much except for maneuvering while swimming, and females use them for digging a nest.

A turtle being measured
A turtle being measured

Both groups had the opportunity to experience the challenge it is to catch sea turtles and keep them steady to take measurements! It was all worth it as one student said, “This was the best day so far!”

Oh Happy Day!

The Sea Turtle Research team held an in-reach for local staff on Tuesday, December 1. Local staff members who had never gone “turtling” before, and many who had never seen a sea turtle, were given an opportunity to visit one of the research team’s study sites, Starved Creek, in order to catch turtles. The aim was to have everyone at least see a green sea turtle in its natural habitat.

Facilities team holding the turtle of the day!
Facilities team holding the turtle of the day!

During the day, the staff members came out in two different groups. In the morning, the Facilities team came out and this was when we caught our first and only turtle of the day! For someone who has never caught a sea turtle before, or even for someone who has, it is not debateable that Arlington has the most graceful technique for catching turtles. Once Arlington surfaced with the turtle, the entire boat erupted in cheers! Johnny, who was a bit apprehensive about coming along to catch turtles, turned out to be the most excited person on the boat! There was a point where all his fears disappeared and he looked as though he was going to jump in the water and catch the turtle himself! Once the turtle was caught, the entire boat broke out in singing and dancing, as Johnny lead the boat in the chorus of “Oh Happy Day!”

The Accounting team on their way to Starved Creek
The Accounting team on their way to Starved Creek

The second group that came out in the afternoon consisted of the Accounting Team. Although this group came mere inches from catching a turtle, they were not able to do so. Yes, sea turtles are indeed very efficient swimmers! Chasing this turtle, however, had the boat filled with a mixture of elated, excited, enthusiastic, and adrenaline-pumped individuals who, put simply, were revelling in the experience.

The sea turtle in-reach experience was a successful one and truly one of the best ways to conclude the final days of the semester. It was refreshing to share knowledge and excitement with our extended family, who are so genuinely appreciative to be a part of the research. It was undoubtedly our pleasure to give our local staff a “Happy Day.”

 

Final Earthwatch team of 2015!

The Cape Eleuthera Institute Sea Turtle Research and Conservation team finished off an awesome year of Earthwatch trips with the 8th and final Earthwatch team of 2015. Participants from the US, the UK, and Canada joined the expedition for 9 days of exciting research. The participants were enthusiastic to get involved in the many facets of sea turtle research happening at CEI. The volunteers got hands on experience setting baited remote underwater video surveys (BRUVS), doing abundance surveys at various locations, as well as catching plenty of turtles!

These Earthwatch participants joined the Cape Eleuthera Institute Sea Turtle Research Team from across the globe for a week filled with research and education
These Earthwatch participants joined the Cape Eleuthera Institute Sea Turtle Research Team from across the globe for a week filled with research and education

The Earthwatch team also got the chance to hear from other researchers at CEI about projects going on during nighttime presentations. These presentations varied from sustainable fisheries management to coral reef health and ecology.
A substantial amount of data was collected over the week, with 259 turtles spotted during abundance surveys across the creeks of South Eleuthera. We also had two record-breaking days in a row during abundance surveys, with exactly 127 turtles spotted, on both days, in Half Sound!

Earthwatch participant Bill Creasy learns how to take the curved carapace length of a small juvenile green turtle
Earthwatch participant Bill Creasy learns how to take the curved carapace length of a small juvenile green turtle

 

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A busy week with The Island School Research Symposium and Parent’s Week

Last Thursday was The Island School Research Symposium! It is a highlight of Parent’s Week, and a time for parents to hear about the good work being done by their sons and daughters. Throughout the semester, The Island School students have collaborated with CEI researchers, contributing to ongoing research projects. They have been studying various ecosystems around Eleuthera, including inland ponds, the pelagic zone, the deep sea, shallow water sandbars, and tidal creeks .

Dr. Craig Dahlgren discussing the current state of coral reefs in The Bahamas.
Dr. Craig Dahlgren discussing the current state of coral reefs in The Bahamas.

 

In all, nine projects were presented, and Dr. Craig Dahlgren, Senior Research Scientist for the Bahamas National Trust, concluded the event with a talk on the state of coral reefs in The Bahamas. All nine projects are being featured on our Instagram (@CEIBahamas) and Facebook pages, so please check them out for more details on the amazing research done this semester!